Christ Episcopal Church in Redondo Beach hosts its weekly Fureai (“connectedness”) program, which
is regularly attended by close to 30 older adult participants. Every Wednesday,
the program provides activities such as easy English conversation, adult coloring,
and board games; and on Fridays, there is even a cooking class.
In receiving support through Keiro’s Grants Program, the
Chris Episcopal Church program organizers, including Father Joshua Lee and Ministry
Leader John Tokeshi, wanted to create a space for older adults and others who might
be at risk of isolation. A grassroots effort to help not only church members
but the community at-large, the weekly program has grown so much that
organizers hope to expand beyond their main space – and it is all thanks to a 93-year-old
gentleman, who many credit for the idea behind Fureai.
Those who know James say he’s sharp and incredibly warm
The former NASA employee still uses his computer daily, and is
known to be a welcoming mahjong teacher. James created a Mahjong board and his
own guide to use during Fureai, and
is always willing to help any participant learn to play the game. With his
influence, the mahjong corner has expanded to three tables.
When asked about being the program’s inspiration, he laughs.
“I just aged. That’s all I did,” he says.
When James’ wife passed away, he found himself adjusting to
a new lifestyle of living alone. Around that time, Father Joshua came to the
United States from Japan. In order to learn more about the community and his new
congregation, he first spent time listening and talking to various church
members. When it was James’ turn to meet Father Joshua, he shared his
experience of living on his own, adding that there could be other older adults
in similar circumstances.
He told Father Joshua that there weren’t many reasons for
people like himself to go out. James hoped that if the church hosted activities
and social gatherings, he and others would make the effort to meet.
Programs like these can be important, almost essential, in
reducing feelings of isolation and loneliness that are common for many older
adults. It was this concern that prompted Father Joshua and others from the
church to take action.
For Ministry Leader John Tokeshi, the measure of success is
based on the conversations in the room.
It hasn’t even been a year since the Fureai program began, and it is almost at max capacity in the main
room where it is currently hosted. Many people learned about the program
through word of mouth, and the posters and flyers they put up at nearby
There’s a good balance and mix between generations, and the
conversations taking place in the room create a vibrant atmosphere.
“You know – the feel for the atmosphere. The laughter and
the talking,” says John, who appreciates seeing the community’s older adults enjoying
their time with others. “You can see people building friendships.”
Like James, many of the older members have
found opportunities to help shape the Fureai
program. Over time,
the activities change and grow depending on what the members ask for. Just as
in the expansion of the mahjong tables, the members are able to provide
feedback on what they would like to see. Although the group was established
with a specific target group in mind, as a local, grassroots program, it has
grown organically based on the group’s requests and the input of different
A number of older adults are Japanese-speaking. Many are
women whose husbands have passed and they may not have many opportunities to leave
the house. But they regularly attend on Wednesdays, playing Reversi and chess
while practicing English as a way to stay connected.
Thanks to Keiro’s grant, many participants receive support
for transportation expenses, which allows members to enjoy an afternoon of
conversations, playing games, and socializing as they create new connections
through the program. There are often new faces joining the group each
week, but for other members it is a consistent activity on their schedule. For
those individuals, Fureai is just
another regular Wednesday with their new community.
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